Not far from the New York Stock Exchange, which now has more barriers around it than a fortnight ago, protesters are still occupying a park as part of their campaign to… to… well, to do whatever they’re trying to do.
The hundreds (and, at times, thousands) of people who have been gathering are committed to a cause. The problem is that it’s not necessarily a common cause – and it’s a cause that they have trouble enunciating.
In theory, the campaign is based around the distribution of wealth, regulation of large companies and universal welfare.
You wouldn’t necessarily know that on quick glance, though.
The mainstream media has been giving the demonstration limited coverage and a lot of the independent journalism seems to have been fairly nonjudgmental, as if supporting the cause somehow makes them more in-touch than other media outlets.
So I thought I would head into the financial district myself to try to find out more firsthand.
It was the eleventh day of the ‘occupation’ and after spending some time watching and talking with the protesters, I was left with a strange nebulous mix of impressions.
There is something disconcerting about a group of unwashed activists, either unemployed or choosing not to be at work, criticising hard-working citizens who have spent decades to get to the top of their profession.
But then again, they speak of the evils of the systems in the US and you can’t help but agree that the country seems to be doing nothing to help those most in need.
You’re then struck with the seeming futility of the whole cause – the demonstrators claim big business and big government don’t care about ‘ordinary people’… so why would they bother paying attention to a small gathering of pierced, tattooed, smoking, hippy-like trouble-makers?
The whole scenario is so full of contradictions it’s not surprising to discover that although they call themselves ‘Occupy Wall Street, they’re actually a few blocks away.
At one point I struck up a conversation with Sean, a young guy from Baltimore.
Well, he’s from Baltimore now because he had to move from Washington when the cost of living got too high. He’d come to join the protest because of the inequity he sees in the country’s economy.
“When I was growing up I used to think our family was middle class, and then one day I realised that we were actually working poor,” he told me.
Sean was clearly quite intelligent and articulate in his conversation but he was also covered in tattoos so it wasn’t a surprise to find out he’s a tattoo artist by trade.
But getting inked is apparently a luxury in tough financial times, and he’s not doing a very good trade at the moment. All around him he just sees people slipping deeper into poverty.
“My father’s a carpenter but he’s sick right now so he can’t work and doesn’t get paid by his company. But he can’t quit and find a different job because he needs the health benefits. It’s the same story all over the place.”
Sean’s thinking of leaving America, fleeing the ‘land of opportunity’ to find somewhere with real opportunities.
He thinks this protest will either grow across the nation and cause a significant change or it will fail and, in his words, “if this one can’t work, nothing ever will”.
There is potential for growth. The demonstrators have got a strong organisational structure and they run things from the headquarters at the park.
Cardboard signs list what’s happening at specific times of the day (7:30am is wake up, by the way); people wander around with food at lunchtime; and different groups are assigned different tasks.
There’s a communications centre with laptops and video cameras (although by ‘centre’, I mean a bunch of tarpaulins over backpacks arranged in a circle), and press conferences are held for the media who hover around hoping for more teargas-related police intervention but reluctantly pay lip-service to the campaign so they don’t feel like their time was wasted.
Similar protests have now popped up in other cities across the US, and even more are planned. These people are certainly in for the long haul, but that might not be enough.
Dedication, passion and ideals are important for a campaign like this but, on their own, won’t succeed in changing anything.
As we all know, Barack Obama got to the White House by promising ‘hope’ and ‘change’ but was stifled by reality.
If the President can’t change the nation, what hope do these guys have?
Perhaps Sean has the right idea to just get out of here…